Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ein Prosit and Happy New Year!

No sadder sight than an empty mug.

I hate to think that I should have ended our lovely travel blog on such a serious and somber note so, with the new year, I give you a few new (last) pictures from our final days in Munich.

Ein Prosit!
At the Augustiner, our favorite bierhall in Munich.
There's plenty for everyone!
The famous Haufbrauhaus
Merionplatz, in the heart of Munich.

The best sauerkraut is to be had at the Augustiner.

Until next time, my friends...

Au revoir.

Guten Nacht.

Buona Notte.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Work Shall Set You Free"

On our final day in Munich we took a few hours to see the infamous concentration camp in the nearby town of Dachau. The train ride was a quick one from the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and we sat in silence the whole way. It seemed eerie to be riding a comfortably modern train along the same tracks which bore so many people to their terrible fate.

As meteorological fate would have it the town was heavy with mist, all but obscuring the houses and roadways surrounding the "concentration camp memorial site".

I shivered as the modern world faded away and the camp came out of the fog like some sort of ominous Brigadoon.

The original guard house still stands along with the beautifully wrought front gate, bearing the proclamation "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Shall Set You Free").

Dachau was the first concentration camp established inside Germany (1933) and the only one to be occupied for the entire reign of the Third Reich. It was used primarily as a work camp and though executions were carried out on a regular basis, mass exterminations did not occur here until near the end of the war. Aside from the guard house and barracks, not much remains of the original buildings, though a replica of one of the prisoners barracks was constructed in the 1960s.

The camp is mostly barren aside from the usual monuments and artist's tributes to the suffering of so many.

We had no desire to visit the crematorium and so, after viewing the museum exhibit inside the guard's barracks, we made our way back to the bus to return us to the train station. Along the way, I wondered how must it be for the modern townspeople of Dachau to go about their normal lives with such the solemn burden of history.

Never forget.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig!

We arrived back safely in the land of Sunshine and Silicone yesterday. I am combatting the jetlag with work and the hopes of later opening the bottle of Calvados I shipped from France. My liver is hanging on by a thread, but I think it will tolerate this last indulgence.

Hang on until Sunday, Dear Readers, for the account of our trip to Munich.

PS The Snick did not run to greet us after a three and a half week absence. Oh, no. She waited ten minutes before sauntering out of the bedroom and then regarded us with a "where the f*ck have YOU been?" look.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Money

As it were, Joe and I skipped the “Sound of Music” bus tour (37 Euros each) and went right for the “Mozart Dinner Concert” (about the same price, wine not included).

Salzburg is a sparkling clean and efficient city.

It was fairly quiet when we arrived on Friday from Venice

and even quieter on Saturday due to the holiday. We walked the silent streets that morning, heading toward the old city and the fortress, which rises above it.

A hasty funicular ride brings you directly to the fortress

offering an amazing panorama of the city.

By the time we returned to the bottom of the hill, the tourist trade picked up considerably and the old city was filling with people.

We passed the ubiquitous souvenir hawkers, now selling Bavarian hats and plastic busts of Mozart. We resisted the former but picked up the latter for our library shelf. Mozart himself was busy shilling chocolates throughout the city and, judging from the dismayed look on his face, he thought it quite undignified for a musical genius.

Already thinking of food, we bought a huge soft pretzel to munch while considering our dinner options for that evening. The night before, we had eaten in Salzburg’s oldest beer cellar, the Pitterkellar, which was conveniently located in the cellar of our hotel.

Tonight we considered St Peter’s Stiftskellar, central Europe’s oldest restaurant est 843. We headed to St Peter’s to do some recon and when we arrived at the restaurant we spotted the sign advertising dinner and music.

Always happy to kill two birds with one stone, we signed right up.

We passed through the lovely Mirabell Gardens on our way back to the hotel

and our afternoon nap. That evening, we arrived at St Peter’s and were seated at a table near the front and with another American couple, Ann and Jim from Michigan. A string quartet began the evening with selections from Don Giovanni and two singers of decent voice sang various selections from this and other Mozart operas.

Between, we had our food, the first being an interesting lemon cream soup with cinnamon and the main course of the usual five pounds of meat with a tablespoon of vegetables

(OK, I’m exaggerating slightly). Dessert was slight and not too filling – just the way I like it.

The bill arrived and we’d found that, due to the wine and the bottles of mineral water, we had more than doubled our initial expense for the evening.

Somewhere, Maria von Trapp is laughing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fifteen Years and One Day

When I first visited Venice with my father back in 1989, I was enraptured by the city and vowed someday I would someday return with the man I loved. Thursday was Joe’s and my fifteenth wedding anniversary and we got to spend a glorious, sunny day in lovely Venice.

Of course, when we arrived from Rome Wednesday afternoon, the sun was not shining at all as we had brought the rainy weather with us. Luckily, the walk from the train station to our hotel was a short one. We arrived, mildly wet and bedraggled, at the front desk of the Hotel Principe. I had found the Principe online, once again through, and splurged on a room with a canal view in honor of our anniversary. It was worth every penny. Our jaws dropped when we saw our accommodations and we ran madly around the room taking pictures and videos.

The balcony, though wet, was immediately toasted with the remains of a bottle we brought from the train.

After Rome, a mild drizzle was nothing to us and so we ventured forth to explore our neighborhood, the Cannareggio district. Despite the weather, vendors were out hawking the usual cheap souvenirs, plastic statues of David were now replaced with Carnevale masks and Murano glass.

As always, we stocked up on fresh veggies, salume (duck proscuitto, oh boy!)

and wine. Lots of wine.

We crossed the Canal Cannaregio and to my left I spotted the Hotel Biasin where Dad and I had stayed all those years ago. The Biasin looked as though it had seen better days and I suspected it was hanging onto its remaining star by a slender thread.

As I looked on, the chandelier was briefly illuminated in the room where we had stayed and for a moment the old girl looked grand once again. My throat got tight and I turned away. Joe and I held hands and continued our walk.

Avoiding the main streets and the restaurants offering “tourist menus”, we scoped the side streets and alleyways for some restaurant possibilities for the evening. We came up on a small place, Taverna Ciardi, and noted what looked like graffiti on the front door. Upon closer inspection, we discovered handwritten messages from various diners, extolling the culinary virtues of Taverna Ciardi and its kitchen. We made note of the location and decided to check it out later.

We came back to the hotel and prepared our usual low-cholesterol afternoon meal. The drizzle had stopped so we ventured out on our balcony.

A couple on the adjoining balcony were also enjoying the late afternoon view and, after introducing ourselves, we made friends with Charlie and Anita from Shrewsbury, MA. They had just got off a cruise ship the day before and decided to spend one more day in Venice before heading back to the States. We shared some fruit and chatter for a while and then went back in for a nap.

That night we returned to the Taverna Giardi and were waited on/entertained/fed by its owner/waitperson/chef de cuisine, Guilio. Guilio spoke perfect English (and French) and kept us enthralled with his stories and his food. I had a spicy Venetian variation on pasta e fagioli

while Joe had spaghetti with assorted shellfish. Yum.

We had a carafe of local wine, of course (there was a nearby store that had casks of wine – you just went in with an empty bottle for a filler-up),

and for a dessert a tiramasu with a layer of amaretto floating on top.

Delicious. Guilio invited us to return for our anniversary dinner on Thursday – the chef would whip up a special just for us – but we remained non-committal. As wonderful as our dinner had been, we wanted to explore other options closer to St Mark’s where we could “hop on” a gondola for a romantic and obscenely priced ride. We bid Guilio and his friendly staff goodbye and went back to our hotel to crash.

The next day….SUNSHINE! Woo-freaking-hoo!! After a hearty breakfast in the hotel dining room,

we headed for the nearest vaporetto (water bus) stop to buy a day pass and head to St Mark’s. Along the way, we snapped pictures of a Venice in what seemed to be a constant state of repair.

Scaffolding covered many buildings and we heard the constant whine of saws and electrical tools. The city has been slowly sinking for years and many sections had been abandoned completely as the rising water made it uninhabitable.

Now it seemed Venetians were being proactive and working to preserve a city which depended on the tourist trade for its livelihood.

We docked at St Mark’s and rounded the corner into the square only to find most of it impassable. As is always the case this time of year, St Mark’s Square was flooded

and a system of wooden walkways cris-crossed the plaza ferrying the hordes of tourists from point A (Doge’s Palace)

to point B (St Mark’s Basilica).

We stood in the middle of the square and watched the multitudes shuffle by. So much for my theory that Venice would be slow this time of year. There seemed to be plenty of Americans about taking advantage of the strengthening dollar overseas and ignoring the dire financial news back home. We sat for a bit at a café and ordered a ridiculously expensive cup of coffee and enjoyed the ambience.

A couple from Marina Del Rey sat next to us and we exchanged snapshots.

After paying the bill (holy sh*t),

we walked away from the square and into the high-end retail district. I window-shopped (couldn’t even afford to step in a store, never mind buy anything) while Joe snapped away. We found the little restaurant recommended by our friends Rob and Jane in Vermont and put it on our list of possibilities for the evening. Walking further, we came upon a small square and the stately Hotel Bonvecchiati with its lovely terrace restaurant. It seemed like the ideal spot for a romantic anniversary dinner and we put it at the top of our list.

The afternoon sunshine convinced us we should take advantage of our hotel balcony

and so we returned to the Principe to lunch in private.

We had some wine with lunch.

More cheese and more wine. There was definitely more than one bottle.

The sunset over the canal was spectacular and even in our slightly sodden state we managed to get off some pretty good shots.

Eventually we decided a nap (ie “sobering up”) was in order before dinner that night so we pulled the curtains and laid down for a nap. Joe set his alarm for 8 pm and we zonked out. Joe awoke first and checked his phone – the alarm never went off. It was now almost 10 pm and the restaurants (including the Bonnevecchia) were closing. Our prospects for a post-dinner gondola ride were fading. Dressing as quickly as possible, we scooted over to Taverna Ciardi to see if Guilio would let us in. Of course!

They were serving until midnight. Pleased to see us again for such an important occasion, Guilio brought us a complimentary bottle of wine and some suggestions for dinner. We put ourselves in his hands and let him and the chef choose our dinner.

First, he brought us a primo platti of spaghetti with mussels flavored with saffron

and a spaghetti con vongoli with the tiniest, sweetest clams imaginable.
Finger licking good.

For the secondi, we had a fritto misto of clams, mussels, calamari, sardines, shrimp and vegetables.

The misto was fried in palm oil, which gave it a lighter and slightly exotic taste. Yum. For dessert, we had our tiramisu with amaretto once again along with a taste of a homemade chocolate liqueur made with grappa. Yowsa.

I think there was another bottle of wine in there as well. Guilio sat down to join us as it was now late and we were his only customers. We talked and laughed and drank.
(I recreated my reaction earlier when Joe's cell phone failed to wake us)

Joe blessed the restaurant and offered communion.
Finally, I got up to visit the WC and saw the chef and barman patiently waiting to close up so I began to prod Joe along. He and Guilio were having a grand old time but I finally got us all moving and we headed for the door. One last picture of the Ciardi staff was taken

and Joe and I added our own tribute to the messages on the front door. Joe and I agreed it was a wonderful evening and we could not have asked to find a better place to celebrate fifteen years of marriage.

Guilio looked at his watch, noted the time and said “Fifteen years and one day!”

We walked back to the hotel in the early morning, the deserted streets of Venice all to ourselves.